Tom Bouman’s Dry Bones in the Valley is an authentic small town police procedural.
I call the book authentic because Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania, policeman Henry Farrell solves the crime the way a small town policeman would. He listens, he watches, and he knows the people.
Aub Dunigan shotguns Danny Stiobhard wounding Stiobhard and causing the local doctor to call Henry Farrell.
That leads Farrell to Aug’s small farm where he finds an unidentified body.
Someone killed the man months earlier. The murderer stuffed the body in a crevice to be covered by the winter snow.
Aub swears he didn’t kill the man. In the midst of the investigation, someone murders Farrel’s deputy. And the story goes from there.
Farrell is at the bottom of the law enforcement heap. When the sheriff, the state police, and finally the DEA become involved, Farrell is more shut out than included.
But he continues talking to this strange mix of people. Aub Dunigan is the most interesting of them all.
A declining recluse, Aub has his own secrets and tragedies. Those become clear in the course of the story.
Along the way, Farrell searches fracking sites around While Thyme. He hates fracking. His wife died of virulent cancer. He believes fracking chemicals caused the disease.
Also, Wild Thyme township harbors Meth labs run by druggies who have migrated from the city. Wild Thyme is a strange mix of its Gaelic heritage, isolated reclusive characters, and modern environmental abuse and crime.
The title Dry Bones in the Valley doesn’t refer to the bodies unearthed in the story. Those bodies have not yet been reduced to bones. Instead, I think Dry Bones in the Valley refers to the bones of ancient animals. Those animals and their decay makes this part of Pennsylvania rich in gas and oil.
At one point, Farrell describes his job as much like hunting. He quietly notices, watchs, waits, and when he is close enough, closes in to find the killer.
In this case, the killing comes from an unexpected source.
My only struggle with this book was in keeping up with the vast array of characters.
I spent most of my growing up and working years in small Missouri towns. (I’m talking about small towns, 10,000 or fewer, mostly a lot fewer.)
I am often skeptical of small town mysteries. Some authors don’t understand small towns.
Dry Bones in the Valley is an excellent, authentic, small town mystery.